report card

100 days in, Fariña offers her vision for school accountability

PHOTO: Sarah Darville

After 100 days of running the city school system, Carmen Fariña took stock on Saturday, repeating her commitment to making teachers and principals feel respected and previewing changes to the Bloomberg-era system of school accountability.

She also unveiled new initiatives aimed at the city’s more vulnerable students, including a new science and technology program for English Language Learners and the doubling of program meant to curb summer learning loss for low-income students.

Her remarks, delivered Saturday morning at Teachers College, departed rarely from the themes she has focused on since Mayor Bill de Blasio chose her as chancellor. She championed a number of what she called “amazingly simple” solutions centered on forcing people to solve problems by talking to each other.

“We don’t need to cook up some secret sauce for success,” Fariña said.

Looking ahead, Fariña offered some specifics about how the Department of Education will enact de Blasio’s campaign promise to eliminate the city’s system of assigning letter grades to schools. She twice said the current system can be “arbitrary,” citing the 75 schools that earned a C, D, or F on their progress report even though their students scored above average on state exams.

Those progress reports weigh student progress more heavily than overall achievement, and were a centerpiece of the Bloomberg era of school accountability. That system was designed to more equitably measure the success of both typically high-achieving and low-achieving schools, but it also often distressed schools where students do well but don’t meet the city’s progress targets.

Today, Fariña promised that the grades will be replaced by a report that includes “qualitative measures,” something even the architects of existing system acknowledged was necessary last year.

“Accountability must occur in a way that’s conducive to achieving results, because you don’t reach historic heights for kids when morale in our system has plummeted to all-time lows,” Fariña said.

The most visible education initiative in Fariña’s first 100 days has been the mayor’s own push to secure funding for an ambitious pre-kindergarten expansion, which has been largely directed by City Hall. Fariña praised the pre-K effort on Saturday, pointing to one classroom she visited where four-year-olds were tackling the word “carnivorous.”

“But make no mistake: our efforts to provide every child with an excellent education do not stop here,” she added.

That begins with making sure that what teachers are doing is aligned with the Common Core learning standards, she said, which will improve student achievement.

But for all of her alignment with the mayor’s pre-K vision, her speech revealed one continuing distinction from her boss: she refuses to say the school system she runs is “falling short” or “failing.”

photo (32)De Blasio has been much more direct in saying he believes the city’s schools aren’t up to par. “We need to be able to say that despite the good efforts of so many, the school system is still broken in so many ways,” the mayor said in his own education speech three weeks ago just one block from Teachers College.

Fariña spent little time addressing the charter school space controversy that led to de Blasio’s speech, though she noted that the city was committed to working with all of its students.

“Space-sharing has often been distorted as an us-versus-them battle, particularly between district and charter schools,” Fariña said. “We seek progress by getting out of headquarters, inside schools, and to the bottom of problems.”

The chancellor announced that she was working with universities in the city to forge partnerships with district schools, though she didn’t say what those partnerships would provide. To help low-income students, the city is looking to double the number of spots available in Summer Quest, a program designed to keep kids reading. (Last year, though, that program was not shown to have an impact on summer learning loss.)

She also announced that the department’s Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners will be renamed the Division of Specialized Instruction and Student Support, and that the city would be launching a new science, technology, engineering, and math initiative specifically for bilingual students.

“These are the types of programs that will help level the playing field,” Fariña said.

Want the full text of Fariña’s speech? It’s here. Looking to stay up to date on New York City education news? Sign up for our morning newsletter here.  

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.